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Catching a buzz from water-saving succulents on Gardens of Folsom tour

Make living art with succulents

Terri Tollette of the Folsom Garden Club shares her succulent wall and tips on creating container gardens.
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Terri Tollette of the Folsom Garden Club shares her succulent wall and tips on creating container gardens.

While working in her Folsom garden, Terri Tollette can get lost. She becomes singularly focused, not on her home’s spectacular view of the Sacramento Valley or impressive evergreens, but what grows beneath the trees – a vast array of succulents.

“I lose track of time when I am working with them,” she said. “To me, that means I am very much in the moment and not thinking about anything else, which brings me joy.”

Tollette’s home will be a featured stop on this weekend’s Gardens of Folsom tour, an event that celebrates dedication as well as green thumbs.

More than 150 people belong to the Folsom Garden Club, one of the largest gardening groups in the greater Sacramento area. The club even has a waiting list for prospective members, said Peggy Dewey, who helps plan the annual event.

The club works nearly year-round to prepare for the tour, which features the private gardens of six members plus the San Juan Water District’s drought-tolerant demonstration garden and a plant sale. This year, the tour’s gardens highlight water-saving renovations and ideas, still a popular topic despite record winter rains.

After years of drought, all that extra moisture renewed beauty to many landscapes, Dewey noted. “The rain made everything happy.”

The Tollette garden is a case in point. The former front lawn was replaced by water-wise Buffalograss and Santa Barbara daisies, which have been blooming nonstop this spring.

“Their home has a real woodland feel,” Dewey said. “They have a beautiful collection of evergreens, something you don’t generally see a lot of. I love the look of the Buffalograss. It’s so lush.”

“I love the Buffalograss, too,” Tollette said. “It takes half the water (of other turf) and we literally mow it just once a year.”

Tollette and her husband, Wylie, moved to the home perched over the American River about nine years ago so each could indulge their passions. He grows wine grapes and collects dwarf conifers. She loves succulent plants and bees.

“We did the whole thing ourselves, and we’re still working on it,” she said of the landscape. “We changed every single thing except three redwoods and a tulip tree.”

Tollette recently fulfilled a longtime ambition: She started keeping honey bees.

“They’re so fascinating,” she said. “I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been thinking about doing it for 10 years. Then, my husband bought me the whole setup – hive, gear, everything. It’s been quite a learning experience. With the nice weather, they truly are busy as bees.”

Tollette included several herbs and edibles among her ornamental plants. A lavender border keeps the bees happy. Citrus and olive trees enjoy the heat of the back wall overlooking a pool. Blueberry bushes dot the side-yard walkway.

“Most people don’t recognize them,” Tollette said of the blueberries. “They taste so good. I eat them right out of the garden.”

Her backyard’s sunny location prompted her to grow the succulents.

“They provide instant gratification,” she said. “They’re easy to plant and propagate quickly, there is no waiting around for them to grow, like with seeds and most plants.”

She grows more than 60 varieties of succulents in an ever-expanding collection. Her favorites are echeverias, aeoniums and kalanchoes. Planting them in containers allows her to move them around her garden until she finds just the right spot for each.

Besides growing in more conventional pots, succulents peek out of cloth pockets or moss-lined frames hung on fence posts. Like floral centerpieces or bouquets, they decorate tabletops. Studded with blooms, succulents form a “living picture” on a main wall.

When combining varieties in pots, Tollette treats succulents like arranging flowers, choosing a mix of complementary forms and foliage.

“They are kind of an art form,” she said. “I like the various colors, textures, blossoms and shapes.”

Succulents were made for drought-tolerant gardening in the greater Sacramento area, she added. Their tubular flowers also draw hummingbirds into her garden.

“The hummingbirds love succulents, but not the bees,” she said. “But they have lots of other choices. There’s always something blooming in our garden.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

17th annual Gardens of Folsom tour

Where: Start at 324 Marsh Hawk Drive, Folsom

When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, April 29-30

Admission: $20

Details: www.folsomgarden.org

Highlights: Presented by the Folsom Garden Club, this tour features six private gardens plus the San Juan Water District demonstration garden.